About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Angel Beats! Review Version 1.1


Marvel Comics , of what's commonly referred to as the Golden and Silver Ages of western comics (early-to-mid 60s up through the 80s, IIRC), were (in)famous for loving to put many of their top superheroes in combat against one another just for sheer shits and giggles. And, well, to also play to rampant fan speculation on who would win between Popular Superhero A and Popular Superhero B. Loads of Marvel comics revolved around The Incredible Hulk vs. The Thing (of the Fantastic Four), The Incredible Hulk vs. Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk vs. Spiderman, The Fantastic Four vs. X-Men, The X-Men vs. The Avengers, and other such superhero(es) vs. superhero(es) conflicts. Some of these conflicts occurred frequently (such as Hulk vs. Thing, as pictured above), while some of these actually had their own short comic book series' revolving entirely around the conflict (the two I mentioned above involving the X-Men).

The fights between these superheroes could be a barrel full of fun for comic book fans, including myself at one point. But there was often very little lasting significance to them. The fights were typically over some sort of misunderstanding or another, the fights often ended inconclusively, and the fights frequently served more or less the same purpose as a staged boxing match: just entertain the audience.

... And now we come to Yurippe vs. Tenshi in the Angel Beats! anime. ;)

More on that later on.

I originally hadn't planned to write more on Angel Beats! until after the final episode was out. However, after watching through episodes 7 through 12, and taking some time to dwell on them and the series as a whole, I think that I finally have a pretty good idea of what Maeda was aiming for here. And that's what I want to share with you, good reader.

It's certainly possible that episode 13 will contain an unexpected plot twist (at least for me) that will render many of my observations in this blog entry incorrect. However, I honestly view that as unlikely, as I don't know if Angel Beats! can afford yet another major plot twist, and I suspect that Maeda realizes this as well. So, let's assume, at least for now, that episode 13 of Angel Beats! flows with what I now believe to be the case for this anime. If so, then the following is what I believe holds true.

I've read and skimmed through a lot of fan reaction to Angel Beats! on various blogs, and anime message boards. A common viewpoint I run across is that Angel Beats! went off the rails in episodes 6 through 10. That it was going great in the early going, but that it just lost sight of the core conflict that was supposed to be driving this anime.

But, you see, that "core conflict" was never the main idea behind this anime at all. Nor was it the section of this anime that was of the greatest plot significance. Rather, it was a Hulk vs. Thing. It was there almost purely for fan amusement, and entertainment value.

The real plot of Angel Beats! only begins to take off after Otonashi fully regains his memories. He then undergoes a considerable attitude change, and starts to view the circumstances surrounding him and his new found friends in a very different light. This change in attitude and viewpoint is helped along by Otonashi talking things out with Tenshi. Much like the Golden and Silver Age super hero conflicts of Marvel Comics, a lot of the conflict in Angel Beats! rests on simple misunderstandings. And also just like many of those super hero conflicts of Marvel Comics, the plot of Angel Beats! only begins to really pick up after the misunderstanding is resolved.

The basic plot of Angel Beats! is actually fairly simple. It's the story of a young man who dies, and awakes in an afterlife realm of some sort. This afterlife realm is like Purgatory meets the typical anime high school setting.

This young man awakes right next to the leader of a rebellious faction of sorts about to snipe her enemy. This young man is amnesiac, and hence has no clue what is going on, where he is, or how he came here. The leader of the rebellious faction instantly attempts to recruit him. Her enemy slices him and puts him through great pain after he poses a question that offended her. It's no surprise that he ultimately ends up siding with the rebellious faction, and quickly striking up many tight friendships with the members of that faction, including its leaders.

Conflict continues on between the two sides of this chaotic and free-spirited vs. lawful and obedient struggle, and the young man builds many tight bonds with his new comrades, and the rebellious faction enjoys great camaraderie as a whole. But then, as events pass by, and as misunderstandings are resolved, the young man realizes that the enemy girl is not really an enemy at all. That her goals are perhaps the correct goals.

And that's when the plot of Angel Beats! really begins to clarify. This young man, Otonashi, begins to help his comrades into trying to make peace with their former lives by aiding them in realizing their greatest desires in this afterlife realm. Otonashi, in his life on Earth, became a healer. He used this ability to great effect in the midst of a horrific tragedy that befell him and the many who were with him at the time. He discovered that his life on Earth did indeed have purpose and meaning. It had purpose and meaning in that he helped others, and left a good legacy behind. And in remembering this, the formerly amnesiac Otonashi came to a renewed place of contentment, and saw how he needed to help his friends achieve similar peace and contentment.

A key example of this is the episode in which Otonashi goes to great lengths to help Yui.

Now, due to how the SSS Brigade have essentially overstayed their welcome in a place that is supposed to be a temporary residence at best, this place begins to 'reset itself'. This provides a new source of conflict in the form of shadow/smoke monsters. While Yurippe rushes off to confront the source of this latest malady, Otonashi and the rest of the SSS Brigade deals with the cannon fodder.

But even this conflict is merely added icing on top to the central thrust of Angel Beats!. And that thrust is the story of a young man who goes from a physical healer to a spiritual healer, and who uses his healing talents to help his new found friends.

And that is, in short, the core of the Angel Beats! plot.

The Yuri vs. Tenshi conflict that precedes it is simply to provide vibrant vivacious visuals to entice the audience with. The first six episodes are the "fun factor" of Angel Beats! but it is not there that the core story is found to any great extent (although Episode 3 foreshadows that core story).

Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Tenshi, Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Naoi, Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Tenshi clones, Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Shadow/Smoke monsters... these are all intended to be fights that will hopefully encompass the core story of Angel Beats in flashy fantastic frenzy. It is to compliment a fairly simple and straightforward story with lots of great action and conflict. But the combative conflict itself is not the story.

This is unusual for anime, which is perhaps why many anime fans are puzzled at Angel Beats!

In anime, the real story often comes with the combative conflicts. The more peaceful moments of one character helping another is often perceived as welcomed breaks in the action, and a slice of life time of character or setting development. Those peaceful moments are relaxing moments of calm between the important moments of action.

Angel Beats! is the opposite: The action moments are entertaining moments of excitement surrounding the important moments of plot developments through basic spiritual healing.

It is Otonashi, and not Yurippe, that is the real plot focus and plot mover of this anime. That's not to take anything away from Yurippe, of course, but merely to stress how Otonashi is the true central figure of this anime. It is his actions that have the greatest plot significance. This is most clearly reflected in the anime itself by Yurippe allowing Otonashi's conflicting ideals to take root within her SSS Brigade, and then even requesting Otonashi to present his ideals to the SSS Brigade as a whole, making them a different and viable path that each member of the SSS Brigade can follow if they so desire.

Yurippe shows a great deal of maturity and selflessness in almost deferring to Otonashi here. She accepts that it would be unjust of her to force her own ideals on the rest of the SSS Brigade when they may very well be better served by following the path laid out by Otonashi and Tenshi.

Yurippe also demonstrates a great deal of belief and trust in Otonashi by allowing his own conflicting subgroup of the larger SSS Brigade to take root, and effect change. The sense I get is that while Yurippe would (will?) find it very difficult to follow the path outlined by Otonashi, she still realizes that Otonashi is at heart a good and trustworthy person, and that his path may be the easier and more fitting one for many SSS Brigade members to follow.

Yurippe shows good leadership here, as she puts the well-being of her subordinates ahead of herself.

That being said, Otonashi is the true protagonist of this anime.

Angel Beats! is a wonderful example of contrasts. Its plot twists and turns in ways that befuddle so many, yet its core story is actually simple and straightforward, as long as you don't get too caught up with its ostensible premise. Angel Beats!'s moments of peaceful character interaction often has more plot significance than its grand conflicts. Its stated premise is merely the catalyst for such conflicts, when the real story is something entirely different from its premise.

Angel Beats! is also so heavily infused with a plethora of outside inspirations, that it can be difficult to see the core story laying far beneath this superficial coating.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!, and Clannad obviously influence this anime a lot. Interestingly, it also appears to be influenced by western media like The Matrix movies and the popular tv show Lost, and even the video game Kingdom Hearts (with the Shadow/Smoke Monsters being very similar to the Heartless).

Maeda clearly felt that he needed to dress up his simple story with a great deal of comfortingly familiar entertainment influences. He created so many conflicts, and so much comedy, to simply stretch this story out to 13 episodes.

This is why I think that the conventional wisdom on Angel Beats! may actually be incorrect. 13 episodes might be enough for this anime; even perhaps more than enough. While its shortness creates pacing issues, I suspect that Maeda may have had difficulty contriving yet more conflicts to keep Yuri and the SSS Brigade busy if he had to stretch out the rather straightforward core story of Angel Beats even more. I will say though, that Hinata/Yui definitely could have been developed a bit better.

All in all, though, if I'm right about Angel Beats! (episode 13 may yet prove me wrong), then this anime is better than I first thought. It's exceptionally ambitious, and has a nice heartwarming story surrounded by great amounts of exemplary action and explosive comedy. Otonashi is the spiritual successor to Tomoya, for just as Tomoya's story was often about helping out his friends (such as Kotomi) in a practical way, Otonashi's story is also about helping out his friends in a practical way.

I actually hope that there isn't a big plot twist in episode 13. Such a twist may ruin what Maeda has set up here. We'll just have to wait and see.

So, in conclusion...

This story was never about

Yurippe: It's Clobberin' Time!
Tenshi: Tenshi Slash!

But rather that was the fun precursor to the real story.

The story of a healer providing comfort to his friends.


  1. I wasn't aware that there were people who thought the show went off the rails in episodes 6-10, but you basically had the same assessment I did: 6-10 is actually when we see the core of the story develop.

    I have to admit that the story has actually turned out quite differently from what I expected when I recommended it though. After episode 10, I had expected more episodes like the Hinata/Yui episode, with Otanashi trying to "set things right" so to speak - basically, the episodes would be to a typical Key story what a short story is to a novel. I wasn't even remotely prepared for the sudden increase in action scenes in episode 11, and to be honest it felt a bit disruptive. I also found Yurippe's chat with the "architect" was a bit tricky to follow, although I'm hoping more becomes clear next week.

    Overall I really enjoyed the show. But if I had to make a criticism, it would be that Maeda didn't spend enough time developing the show's secondary characters and their problems. As fun as the fights were, there are other things I think the show maybe should have been doing with its runtime. Or perhaps the show should have been longer.

    Of course, I have to admit that I was part of the group that really liked episode 10, whereas I'm aware there's also a group that felt like it wasn't very involving because it was crammed into one episode. So perhaps many don't share my love of the idea of Maeda writing some short stories as part of this.

    Also, I wouldn't have minded seeing Maeda develop a relationship between Otanashii and Tenshi, although I'll admit that this was mainly inspired by some super-cute fan art:

    (So yeah, I guess my vision for Angel Beats would be "longer, with more side stories and romantic development". Guess I'm the sappy type.)

  2. Ok, that's actually a new argument in defense of the show and it's pretty good.

    I mean if I look back on Air, Kanon, and Clannad, the conflicts are typically internal and interpersonal. The plot is just a contrivance to move things along. It's generally about characters finding themselves and then others. So yea, Angel Beats does somewhat do that-- it's not about the plot as it's much about the journey.

    And yes, episode 8 and especially 9 are the best part of the anime because it really does establish Otonashi's character very strongly. We get a grip for his motivations and desires. But this is the type of thing that is only the beginning of a character, not the end. So reaching the 3/4 point might have been too late.

    Now I'm aware that Maeda isn't responsible for everything-- especially not the animes which people adapt where things are out of his control, but it's hard to not notice a common problem in all 4 of the animes concerning his works that it might not just be a studio issue-- they all have pacing problems, especially near the end. In general, their final arcs are usually significantly weaker and often feel tacked on and out of left field like they're out of time. Sure, they are still emotionally powerful and as I said before the plot is not the main concern-- but it still hurts it severely from a storytelling perspective.

    Well, for the 3 VNs, one could argue it's the issue of merging such a huge source material like that, but after seeing a 13 episode,a 24 episode, and a 48 episode one (Plus the fact that they're regarded as strong adaptations) does make me think about it when I see the same thing happening with Angel Beats!

    But what the hell am I ranting about anyways? Angel Beats's conclusion was anticlimatic-- true our character arcs were resolved a great deal but it comes across as kind of shallow without the necessary development even if some as there.

    It's the same thing, I'd say about like, Endless Eight. I get the point, but... ok now what? And of course the side characters.

    But overall, I can't say it's a bad anime. I mean, true the world could have been explored more, they could have gotten their priorities straight (like having more Hinata-Yui interaction), but not every anime has to be an in depth masterpiece. You might have just convinced me to round it up to a 7, lol.

    It's a clumsy show, but there's at least heart and emotion to it. There definitely was a lot of effort put into the music and the small changes in details (like evolving credits) that most shows would never bother with. It tried not to bore the audience, and it succeeded there. I also liked that part of the OP that always changes (preview of this episode's events).

    In other words, clumsy and well-meaning, much like your typical Key girl. :D

    P.S. Kanade is like the ultimate moe weapon; she seems to have channeled all the moe from previous Key heroines.

  3. 0utf0xZer0 - I agree. I wasn't too keen on the shadow/smoke monsters, and episodes 11 and 12 either. The painfully obvious "Architect" scene was a bit cheesy for my tastes too.

    What I think is going on with Angel Beats! is that every scene is about one of two things: Either Maeda playing to the masses and just trying to put out something there that will grab attention and make his anime popular, OR Maeda being true to his own personal creative vision and strengths. You can tell while watching Angel Beats! which scenes Maeda was most comfortable with (most of the Otonashi scenes that has the spirit of Clannad), and which scenes he was writing just to gain attention. This is why some of the "gain attention" scenes feel flat, or come across as anti-climatic. Maeda's heart really isn't into those; they're just the selling points of the anime, when what Maeda really cares about are the key Otonashi scenes.

    I think it can be said that Maeda may have tried a bit too hard to make his anime popular to non-traditional Key fans. I found episodes 11 and 12 a bit disruptive as well, and would have preferred more in the way of Otonashi helping people with their problems.

    That being said, I suspect that another reason for the action of Episodes 11 and 12 was simply to give Yurippe something to do. It's notable how she barely shows up in the most Otonoshi-centric episodes.

    Archon_Wing - Angel Beats! is actually one of the better animes I've seen, at least since Clannad: After Story. It's not one of my Top 10 or anything (I don't like it as much as Haruhi or Clannad), but I'll probably remember it well. Right now, I'm feeling 8/10 for it. The ending could move that a point or two (no way it gets 10/10 though; the pacing is too bad for that).

    I hope Maeda does another anime in the future. With a little bit of practice, and fine tuning of his approach to writing anime originals, he could write a really exceptional classic anime.

    That being said, it's not hard to see why Angel Beats! has many vocal critics. It overuses plot twists in a Code Geass R2 way, and that's never good, imo.

    Thanks to both of you for the replies! :)

  4. It's not like I disagree with all that. It's just that everything you discribe work good only on paper. In practive it felt too random and rushed.

  5. I wouldn't say that Maeda's touch is limited to Otanashii's scenes, as for me much of the humour was recognizably Key-like as well. Yes, some of it is pretty goofy, but Clannad had a fair bit of goofy humour in it as well. I agree that a lot of stuff seems thrown in to be flashy though, and those parts end up feeling kind of stiff and uninvolving.

    (BTW, I think it's worth noting that for us English speaking fans, there's a "missing link" between Clannad and Angel Beats, as nobody has made a Little Busters anime yet. It would be interesting to see if there's any noticeable trends.)

    Also, I can't help but wonder if the bit with Tenshi eating alone in episode 5 was intended to be a bit of self-parody on Maeda's part. A lot of people associate Key with sad girls and he was really playing it up there...

  6. I have to disagree when you say "I suspect that Maeda may have had difficulty contriving yet more conflicts to keep Yuri and the SSS Brigade busy if he had to stretch out the rather straightforward core story of Angel Beats even more".

    I don't think more conflicts would have to be created. Simply developing the existing storyline would've been good. I think there was plenty in the main storyline that could've been developed. For example in Naoi's war with the SSS, simply filling it in with some mindless skirmishes would've been good enough. There would've more space for Naoi's flashback so it wouldn't come out as suddenly as it did, and the whole thing wouldn't have felt like a half-hearted attempt to grant Otonashi a convenient plot device that enables him to get his memories back.

    And if Track Zero were animated first, it would've taken a reasonable amount of episodes so that the main storyline wouldn't have been stretched too much.

    But just so you know, even Jun Maeda agrees with you when you say "that Hinata/Yui definitely could have been developed a bit better":

  7. Triple_R---

    Yea, I would say that Angel Beats is better than a lot of anime I've seen lately; it just doesn't mean that much hah. And yea he needs to make more anime.

    But still, I appreciate AB! for what it is, I just feel it's a lot of wasted potential still.

  8. An entertaining read Triple R,

    It really did make me look at Angel Beats from a different perspective, dismissing the questionable action scenes as backfill and trying to really focus on Otonashi's story. So I replayed the whole show in my mind, trying to keep that as the center point.

    Unfortunately, even looking from that perspective Angel Beats seems like a trainwreck to me. Otanashi's story in itself was complete, and so was Yui's, but if it was about his journey as a spiritual healer they thoroughly botched that too. Apart from Yui's episode (which I admit, I loved), they really didn't delve into of the other characters.

    Now, I know you wrote this before episode 13's "And then everyone dissapeared" moment, so you couldn't have known they would pull a stunt like that, so I'll forgive you for that. XD

    I really like your comparison to old comic book superhero battles representing the messy entertainment that it was intended for, but even that isn't quite right. The reason things like that work is because the characters are established in their own settings, with their own fanbases - the main entertainment in those battles are seeing the fanbases clash with their ideals and opinions. Both Yurippe and Tenshi are original characters in Angel Beats, so it lacks that crossover pleasure.

    All in all, a fantastically written review, and it came close to tweaking some forgiveness for Angel Beats, but not quite there!